El Camino Frances

The Traditional Route from France

Eastern Galicia

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Barbadelo to Portomarín

7 June 1993 and 28 June 2002

The stage between Barbadelo and Portomarín is only about 17km through farmland and without any serious hills to be climbed. On both occasions the parties to which I was attached treated this as a semi rest day so we could have a relaxing time at the end of a morning’s walk. Portomarín was reconstructed when the original town was flooded by a reservoir and parts of it may still be seen if the water in the lake is low.

1993. In the morning we thought we would have to set off and pick up a breakfast whenever we could find an open bar, but the villagers of Barbadelo were in the refugio by 7am to provide us with bread and jam, and coffee and cakes. The left wing PSOE had only just won the general election, which seemed to suit the villagers.


When we eventually set off there was a heavy fog reducing visibility to only 50 yards but this was not a great disadvantage since we were still in an area of sunken roads and dry stone walls. Once more our route took us through farming communities and we often saw the raised storehouses that are typical of this area (horreos).

Just before Portomarín we saw a farmer and his wife ploughing a field. The farmer had a brand new, shiny, four-wheel-drive mini tractor but this seemed to be the extent of his modernisation. From the back of the tractor he had jury-rigged an old wooden plough and his wife had to walk behind in the furrows in order to guide the plough.

The four of us crossed the long bridge into Portomarín before noon and were prepared to wait for the rest of our party to catch up with us. The refugio did not open until late afternoon but, as we were passing it, we found a car being unloaded with rucksacks. The caretaker refused to let us deposit our bags there and it seemed that he had been bribed to allow in the luggage of the party that had been causing trouble for the past week or so by unfairly claiming the best beds in the refugios while walking unladen. (They had been refused entry to our refugio at Rabanal.)

Three of us stayed to watch our position while Tomas went off to fetch the mayor. We were then able to obtain a more equitable arrangement whereby the rucksacks could be safely left in the refugio but no one could claim a bed until the place officially opened later in the afternoon. When we did return with other pilgrims about 3.30 we found that the best beds were already occupied by the rucksacks of the party who had still not yet arrived. This led to another row with the caretaker and we threw off these packs and claimed the beds for those who had completed the stage in the proper manner.

Usually, on the Camino, the refugios fill up with pilgrims who are for the most part strangers to each other, but beds get allocated and food shared out without any trouble at all. This particular group was the only one I met on my journey with such a selfish attitude but we were able to avoid them for the remaining few days into Santiago.

We waited for the rest of our party in a bar in the main street of the reconstructed village, watching the Tour de France on television and sinking a few beers. This bar seemed to be the general meeting place for pilgrims and it soon became full with people waiting for the refugio to open. As well as the walkers there was a party of multi-coloured cyclists who turned out to be soldiers on some sort of an exercise. This led to a lot of banter with Oscar who would be called up for his national service (mili?) as soon as he finished his pilgrimage. He received lots of advice on how to keep in the colonel’s good books including supplying him with a leg of the best mountain ham. There was also an English guided party there who were travelling by Land Rover and staying in hotels.

Once we were all installed in the refugio we discovered to our delight that there was an electric washing machine (with powder) that we quickly made use of. We had only been able to do some superficial hand laundry for the last three weeks. While our laundry was drying, Oscar’s father turned up to finalise the arrangements for the evening meal. This would take place in the village pulperia (octopus restaurant) and we went there for another drink and were shown what would become one of the courses, a bucket full of live eels.

The evening meal was another one to be remembered. Several friends and relatives of Oscar came from Lugo and, with our party; there were sixteen of us making a very noisy and friendly assembly. Rather than a formal meal, we were given a succession of snacks such as soup, ham, chorizo, octopus and eel. The wine flowed freely and, although I was assured that it was only about 8% strength (flujo?) it tasted much stronger. I was sat next to a chemistry teacher who refilled my glass whenever I was distracted to look away. After the meal I had my first experience of a Galician Queimada. This is a large bowl filled with a punch of orujo, sugar, lemons and herbs. The mixture is then set alight and a witch’s spell recited as it is stirred and spooned, still flaming, into our glasses. We rolled back to the refugio just before we were locked out and slept very well.

2002. We had no special occasion to look forward to this year but, after our partying the night before, we got up late and decided on a lazy day. Angelika prepared coffee for us and we set off on a cool morning. There was rain in the distance but it stayed away from us.


A farmhouse in Morgade was our stop for breakfast; very large coffee and Torta de Santiago (almond cake). After this part of the track was along the bed of a stream using very large stepping stones to keep our feet dry.

Our group straggled out along the Camino but we all arrived in ones and twos in Portomarín before noon. The refugio did not open until 1pm but we had access to the laundry lines behind the building and were at last able to dry our clothes.

The usual friendly bar was once again our meeting place and we gained a new member when Brent came in with his sister Heather who had been touring Europe. She would join us for the last few days into Santiago.

The evening was taken at a gentle pace with a meal, a few drinks and some shopping while investigating the rebuilt town.